Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Betrayal and Trials of Christ

Things unfolded quickly after Christ’s triumphant exit from the Garden of Gethsemane. Even as He told His friends to sleep on and take some rest (Matthew 26:45), a group of men came to take Him. This group included chief priests and elders, all men of the Jerusalem Temple who acted almost like a police force in keeping the peace. Unfortunately these men had evil in their hearts, and were determined to rid themselves of the man who claimed to be the Son of God.

How delighted they must have been when one of His own devoted followers approached them. Remember, Judas left quite a while ago, even knowing Christ was aware of His coming betrayal.

“And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said” (Matthew 26:21-25).

Judas could have repented. He could have humbled himself, and asked for forgiveness. Instead his heart became hardened. Anger and hatred took hold, and he committed one of the most appalling acts this world has known: for thirty pieces of silver he betrayed his Lord.

The following events occur so quickly it’s easy to dismiss some important points. Judas led the group of men to the Garden, a place Jesus had taken his disciples to many times to teach, ponder, and pray. Judas knew this was where He would be, and led the priests and elders there.

Let’s stop here for a moment. Try to recall what the Christ had just gone through. He probably didn’t look like the same man. His robes were probably filthy, His face and hands encrusted with His blood mixed with sweat. Of all the men standing there I would think He looked the least like a man who could be the literal Son of God. Yet this is the man Judas approached and kissed.

In today’s time a kiss is often given without thought. It was not always so. The kiss is significant in Old and New Testament times. As Andrew Skinner, who currently serves as dean of Religious Education and professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, tells us in his book Golgotha, the kiss could mean a reconciliation between people who had been estranged, separated for a long time, or fighting (Look up Genesis 33:4; Exodus 4:27; Genesis 45:15). A kiss could be a token of respect. Religious and educational leaders were often greeted with a kiss by those who were taught. In 1 Thessalonians 5:26 Paul counseled the brethren to greet one another with a ‘holy kiss.’

For Judas to greet the Master with a kiss was a great contradiction. There was no love in it, only betrayal. Could Judas have been more properly reprimanded than for the Lord to have called him, “Friend…” (Matthew 26:50).

Though the timing is not confirmed, just before or after this betrayal Christ asked the men who had accompanied Judas whom they were seeking.

“They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he” (John 18:5).

At this point the men stepped back and fell to the ground. They were so stunned not one of them said a word. Once again Christ asked whom they were seeking, and again they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Why were these men so surprised at Jesus’ answer? Andrew Skinner gives us an idea.

“The translators of the King James Version of the Bible added the word he after each use of the phrase “I Am” in this passage, believing it rounded out the translation. Without that added word, however, we can understand more readily why the chief priests and elders responded as they did, for when they heard Jesus utter those words, they fell backward to the ground – as might anyone who has had the wind knocked out of him because God himself has just responded to his inquiry” (Skinner, Andrew C., Golgotha, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002, p.11).

I think there is one more aspect to Christ proclaiming the words, “I Am.” He’s literally just gone through what no other man on earth could ever hope to accomplish. He rose triumphant, having accomplished the first part of the Atonement. As the words “I Am” came from His lips, I would think there was such determination, such knowledge, such power behind those two words.

It was at this point Jesus was seized by the temple men. Peter, who always seemed to allow his heart to rule his head, pulled out his fisherman’s sword and cut off the ear of one of the men to protect his Lord. Christ, ever mindful of what needed to happen, rebuked Peter. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:53-54.) A legion in the time of Christ included 6,000 soldiers. Could you imagine having 72,000 angels coming at you?

Christ’s mission was not yet completed, as He tried to remind His friends. At this point He healed the guard (a blessing seemingly ignored by those who would kill Him), and meekly submitted to being bound and taken away.

Jesus must have been physically, mentally, and emotionally worn out at this time, yet His thoughts were ever on the welfare of others. He didn’t fight back when the soldiers took Him, knowing precisely what was still to come.

Jesus Christ was bound and led away by an interesting group of people. First you had the chief priests who performed the ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood temple worship. There were also captains of the temple, who acted as security guards, so to speak. They kept order within the walls of the temple. There were also the elders of the church, who were spiritual and social leaders and teachers. Mixed in were Roman guards, thought to be included to make the entire arrest look official.

These men were essentially the same group who desired to take and kill Jesus back when He removed the moneychangers from the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:18).

After His initial arrest Jesus was first taken to Annas, father-in-law to Caiaphas the official high priest. Annas himself had served as high priest when Jesus was a youth (A.D. 7-15), and had great influence within the system. Annas began to question Jesus about His doctrines, hoping to find something within His words to condemn Him (John 18:19-21).

Christ had preached in their temples. The chief priests and elders knew precisely all He had taught. All Annas had to do was ask the men personally. It was in His answer Christ let it be known He knew of the entire plot. They could have taken Him at any time when He preached right in front of them. Instead they chose to claim Him during the night, while most of His devout followers would not be aware of what happened.

At this moment a servant of Annas came forward and slapped Christ for embarrassing his master. Christ was then sent on to Caiaphas, who seemed to share the courtyard with his father-in-law. Here the chief priests and scribes came together in a meeting that turned out to be neither legal, nor fair. In fact all the succeeding trials turned out to be full of ironies and hypocrisies (Matthew 26:59-60; Mark 14:55).

They looked for false witnesses and found two, but the two witnesses couldn’t even agree with one another (Mark 14:59). Do you know what the punishment is for lying in a council meeting? The same as that of the accused. By right these two men should have been crucified as well. Obviously this didn’t happen.

Eventually Christ was accused of sedition. Sedition can also be called trouble-making, treason, or incitement to rebellion (things the very leaders caused in front of Pilate). This was the most they could come up with, other than blasphemy by referring to Himself as the Son of God. For these two things the leaders of God’s own Church cried out for Christ to die.

The council then sought to take their anger out on Him. Christ was spat upon, battered, slapped, taunted and mocked. Around six in the morning Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate was a cruel man who cared little for what the Jews wished, but had burned far too many bridges up to this point and stood on shaky ground with those directly over him.

Pilate asked the Jewish council, “What accusation bring ye against this man?” (John 18:29) to which the council responded, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2). This, of course, wasn’t true (Matthew 22:21).

Pilate probably knew what the Jewish leaders wanted – to keep their own hands clean by making this a government issue. The council also had no power to put anyone to death, lest it be through stoning by their own hands. Though Pilate tried to make them take care of their own disputes, the council would not leave. In speaking with Christ, Pilate couldn’t see that He’d done anything worth being put to death and tried to communicate this with the crowd. The people only became “more fierce” and adamant that something be done. So Pilate did the only thing he could think of: he sent them all to Herod.

As Jesus was from Galilee, He was strictly out of Pilate’s jurisdiction. He also knew Herod had long desired to see the purported Messiah in the hopes of witnessing a miracle. In this Pilate had two hopes. First, that it would take the entire matter out of his hands. Second, that it would help mend the two leaders poor relationship. Only one of the two matters were accomplished. Later he and Herod became friendly.

This was the same man who had murdered John the Baptist, Christ’s cousin. Jesus refused to say a word to Herod. In anger Herod and his men ridiculed and mocked the Savior and sent Him back to Pilate. In a last ditch effort to save Christ’s life, Pilate took the tradition of setting free a prisoner on this day and brought forth a man who was the exact opposite of Christ: evil, notorious, a convicted criminal. When asked who should be released, the Jews cried out, “Barabbas.”

Pilate felt he could do no more without sacrificing his own position. In an effort to rid himself of any supposed guilt he did the ceremonial washing of his hands in front of the assemblage. Neal A. Maxwell wrote, “Pilate sought to refuse responsibility for deciding about Christ, but Pilate’s hands were never dirtier than just after he had washed them” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Why Not Now?”, Ensign, November 1974).

Through all of this Christ stayed quiet, calm, and humble. The one who could create worlds, heal the sick, command legions of angels to come to His rescue, did not lift a finger to save Himself. Even in some of His darkest moments He stood still, patient to the end, though hoards of evil men reviled and smote Him. If only we could all strive to be so patient in our afflictions.

No comments: